Pac-12 Notebook: A Stroll Around the League

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on December 16th, 2015

Every week I check in with the Mountain West by writing a little blurb about each team. I like that format because it provides a chance to follow the development of all the league’s teams and focus in on little things that may not be worthy of a longer post. Some teams may get a few hundred words one week while other teams just get a sentence or two, but it highlights the important things. We’re going to bring that format to the Pac 12, beginning right now. We might as well throw in some power rankings while we’re at it, so let’s check in with the league in order of how these teams rate at this point. Let’s get to it.

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They're Still A Long Way From Healthy (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Jordan Bell Is Back For The Ducks, But They’re Still A Long Way From Healthy. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

  • Oregon – Yes, the Ducks are coming off two losses in their last four games. But I’ve had Dana Altman’s team as the best team in the conference since the middle of the summer and, even playing shorthanded, they’ve done nothing to dissuade me of that so far. Sophomore center Jordan Bell made his season debut Saturday night at Boise State and he looked healthy following surgery over the offseason to repair a broken foot. He ran the court hard, and played big in chasing rebounds and blocked shots. He didn’t appear to be favoring that foot at all. In 17 minutes, he blocked a couple shots, grabbed seven boards and even handed out four assists. Last night against UC Irvine, he was even better with 12 points and three steals. Encouraging debut aside, it is going to take him some time to get back into game shape and to get comfortable with his new teammates. He still also hasn’t played a minute with Tyler Dorsey (out following a knee sprain against UNLV) or Dylan Ennis (still sidelined with a foot injury). This Oregon team remains one that may not reach full strength until mid-February, something that isn’t a problem in a sport that so values March.

  • Arizona – Missouri’s no good, but the Wildcats’ 36-point win on Sunday night was impressive nonetheless. Six players scored in double figures, Gabe York and Allonzo Trier dialed in the three-point shot, but the real fun part? Freshmen Justin Simon and Chance Comanche getting some extended run and contributing. Simon hadn’t earned more than three minutes in any halfway competitive game, but with Elliott Pitts missing his second straight game, Simon saw 16 minutes of action. He played well, hustling, playing good perimeter defense and staying within himself on offense. Comanche played 13 minutes, in part due to Kaleb Tarczewski’s continued absence, snatching 10 boards in his limited time.
Tony Parker Needs To Avoid Fouls For The Bruins To Live Up To Potential (AP)

Tony Parker Needs To Avoid Fouls For The Bruins To Live Up To Potential. (AP)

  • UCLA – Last year’s big games in the non-conference were a disaster. We don’t need to recount all of those. After Kansas wiped the Lahaina Civic Center floor with UCLA (followed up with a poor effort against Wake Forest), it appeared history was ready to repeat itself. But over the course of 10 days, the Bruins handled Kentucky, then went to Gonzaga and came away with a win. While UCLA has a variety of offensive weapons, it was pretty clear on both Saturday and Tuesday nights how much better the team is when Tony Parker is on the court. That fact drives home the importance of Parker avoiding foul trouble, a consistent bugaboo throughout his four seasons in Westwood. Without a doubt, he picks up phantom fouls at times because of his size, but when he makes it a priority to play hard without fouling, UCLA can hang with anyone. At the same time, Parker’s inability to hit foul shots (47.4%) when he gets to the stripe will also figure to be a problem at some point this season.
  • Utah – The Utes have played two games against elite competition this season – against Miami in Puerto Rico and at Wichita State this past weekend. They haven’t been remotely competitive in either game, losing those contests by an average of 20+ points each time. There are two big concerns. First, for all the good things Brandon Taylor can do, he has not yet shown the ability to be a team’s primary point guard. He doesn’t get the ball to Jakob Poeltl anywhere near enough, he takes too many bad jumpers, and worst of all, he’s made just nine of 45 attempts from deep this season. This is a guy who shot 43 percent from long range a season ago. The other big concern is defense — for everyone. Not to pick any more on Taylor, but at 5’10”, he is a significant defensive liability. Guys like Jordan Loveridge, Kyle Kuzma and Brekkot Chapman aren’t good enough perimeter defenders to simultaneously check their man and be ready to provide help defense on Taylor’s man. Even with Poeltl backing everyone up and swatting better than seven percent of opponents’ two-point attempts, the Utes have defensive problems. There are no easy answers for either of these issues, but the good news is there is plenty of time between now and March to figure something out.
  • California – I wrote enough about California last week. Then they hosted a pretty average, but well-coached Saint Mary’s team this weekend and again looked very ordinary. This is a team breaking in youngsters and trying to get a lot of talent to mesh, so they deserve some rope along the way, despite being underwhelming so far.
  • Oregon State – There are a lot of things that could be written about the Beavers here. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, this video is worth a million.

  • Arizona State – The Sun Devils hung with Kentucky for about 28 minutes before they let their guard down and got blown out. But, both Sun Devil sophomore guards introduced themselves to the nation. Tra Holder showed his ability to get into the lane with ease against the Wildcats’ great athletes, while Kodi Justice displayed his special brand of confidence, dropping behind the back dimes in the lane, finishing up and under moves at the rim, and raining deep threes. In the end, the Sun Devils don’t yet have enough horses to hang with John Calipari’s menagerie of elites. But the Devils have every appearance of being an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.
  • Colorado – The Buffaloes are 8-1. Their lone loss was an opening-night six-point road loss in South Dakota to an Iowa State team many consider among the ten best teams in the country. But, they still haven’t really beaten anybody, with their win over BYU this past weekend the best thing going. Provided things work out in Las Vegas prior to Christmas, they could get a crack at a good SMU team, but in the meantime, let’s say that while things look promising, the jury is still out in Boulder.
  • USC – If these rankings are accurate and 67 percent of this conference is better than the Trojans, this is one deep conference. Because the Trojans are pretty darn good. An argument could be made for this team as high as #3 or 4 in the league. Everybody’s been good, but the big story is sophomore Jordan McLaughlin absolutely blowing up. He was good as a frosh playing mostly at the point, but in his second year he’s spending a lot more time off of the ball. He’s been spectacular. Check out these numbers: 44.7 percent from three on nearly four attempts per game; 54.7 percent shooting from inside the arc; handing out assists on more than a quarter of his teammates hoops while he’s in the game; effective field goal percentage of 59.9 and a true shooting percentage of 61.3; steals on 3.2 percent of opponents possessions, all while committing under two fouls every 40 minutes. Oh, and he’s shown all the hallmarks of a leader on a young team in need of one. Jakob Poeltl and Gary Payton II appear to be the leaders for conference player of the year, but McLaughlin lurks close behind.
Who Is That (Temporarily) Masked Man? (Mark J. Terrill, AP)

Who Is That (Temporarily) Masked Man? (Mark J. Terrill, AP)

  • Washington – Two games against not too terrible competition (TCU and Montana) and a pair of wins by an average of 27.5 points. That’s good. They’re not very efficient offensively because they turn it over way too much and can’t really shoot the ball, but playing at the nation’s fourth-fastest tempo (78.4 possessions per game) is lovable. They’ve played five games at better than 80 possessions and have hit at least 76 in eight of their nine games. On a team loaded with athletes, Lorenzo Romar is freeing his guys up to get out in transition, a plan that gives this team the best chance of minimizing the impact of their unpolished skills.
  • Stanford – Finals are behind the Cardinal and Johnny Dawkins’ crew goes back to find an answer to the biggest question of the first half of the season: who’s the point guard? Christian Sanders is the main option and he’s been better than expected, handing out assists on a quarter of possessions. However, he turns it over too much, can’t really make shots, and will be a defensive liability against more explosive guards. Junior Marcus Allen spent some time in relief of Sanders at the one, but as one of the team’s best scoring threats is better suited to play off the ball. Dorian Pickens gets occasional minutes at point as well, but he’s also better on the wing. An interesting dark horse remains 6’7” freshman Cameron Walker. He’ll probably never become more than an occasional secondary ballhandler due to turnover problems, but after not playing in the first four games of the season, he’s averaged better than 11 minutes per game over the last three. Keep an eye on the frosh.
  • Washington State – Did you know the Cougars are second in the nation in blocked shots, swatting away 3.7 percent of opponents’ two-point field goals? Three players on this team have block percentages higher than Josh Hawkinson’s 4.8, highlighted by junior center Valentine Izundu. Izundu’s minutes are only in the mid-teens, but when he’s on the court, he rejects 21.9 percent of opponents’ two-point field goal attempts.
AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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